Ever heard of insect tea? Massimo Marcone tracks down the world's strangest delicacies

A sneak peek at The Next Chapter (01/24/11)

If you're a picky eater, you're probably going to want to stay away from Massimo Marcone's latest book, Acquired Tastes: On the Trail of the World's Most Sought-After Delicacies.

Marcone is a food scientist at the University of Guelph, and he's gained a bit of a reputation as an Indiana Jones of the food world, especially after the publication of his first book, In Bad Taste?: The Adventures and Science Behind Food Delicacies. In that book, he sought out the secrets of the world's most bizarre food, including Kopi Luwak, coffee beans that are harvested from the feces of a small, cat-like creature in Indonesia.

Acquired Tastes is a follow-up to that book, and finds Marcone once again travelling to the most remote parts of the world to taste the most bizarre delicacies -- some mouth-watering, others stomach-turning. The question that lies behind it all, of course, is the nature of a delicacy. What makes some foods more special than others? Is it simply because it is rare? Or is some other factor involved?

From maggot-infested cheese to seal-flipper pie, Marcone enthusiastically takes the reader with him on every step of his journey. Along the way we meet several characters, including a Norwegian whale hunter -- a kind family man who nonetheless makes his living killing whales and selling their meat. It's clear that Marcone comes to care a lot for him, and struggles to reconcile his sense of the man with his ideas about his work. As a result, we gain insight into a side of the whaling industry we otherwise might never encounter.

Although it has its fair share of the bizarre, Acquired Tastes also examines foods that Canadians might find less strange, such as truffles and saffron. In fact, it's when Marcone turns his attention to the harvesting processes of these delicacies that he really hits his stride.

As fascinating as Acquired Tastes is, it's not likely to make you want to embark on a culinary adventure of your own. When it comes to tracking down insect tea, for example, the best seat in the house is probably your armchair.

Tune in to The Next Chapter this Monday, January 24, at 1 pm to hear the full episode. Also on the program this week, Ken McGoogan on his book How the Scots Invented Canada, Carolyn Hemming on Quinoa 365, and Wayne Grady and Merilyn Simonds on their travelogue, Breakfast at the Exit Café: Travels through America.

Visit the website for The Next Chapter and subscribe to the podcast. This week, you'll also get an extended version of the interview with Ken McGoogan.

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